It’s happened: the managing partner at your firm or another (our lips are sealed) has asked you to lunch. Is a big file coming your way? Are you up for partner? Is there an opening to lead your practice group? It’s hard to say. But no matter what, you can’t blow it. Lunching with the elite is a game all its own. And it’s pretty common to think you’ve bungled a custom you didn’t even know existed. And so, here’s our guide to lunching with someone super important.
How to prepare
“Look at the menu ahead of time,” says Leanne Pepper, general manager of The Faculty Club, a private club at the University of Toronto. “Then you can order right away with confidence.” And there is a strategy here. “Stay away from difficult foods,” says Linda Allan, a business etiquette expert in Toronto. “Look for something easy to eat and handle.” Simple salads are a safe choice. Spaghetti Bolognese? Not so much. And aim for neither the most expensive nor the cheapest entrée on the menu.
How to order
“Once you arrive at the table, the more senior person allows the guest to take their seat first,” says Pepper. Then it’s time to order. The host should offer the guest (you) the chance to order first. Keep it short and sweet. “Three questions maximum to the server about the menu,” says Allan. “Don’t hum and haw with ‘How’s this prepared?’ and ‘What’s in this dish?’”
How to bring up business
Do it right after ordering, but not once the food arrives. Because once it does, you better not be talking with food in your mouth, or asking questions when the host has food in hers. But don’t bring up business until you’ve ordered. “Always start the meeting off with small talk,” says Pepper. “Whether you’re in a donut shop or a high-end restaurant.” Follow the cues of your host, though — some will get right down to business. As a rule, avoid religion, politics and gossip.
How to eat
This lunch might land you at a fancy-schmancy restaurant or private club that puts more forks and spoons on the table than you know what to do with. To handle this, look no further than that scene in Titanic. When Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) sits down to an elegant dinner, he nervously asks Molly Brown (Kathy Bates), “Are these all for me?” To which she helpfully replies, “Just start from the outside and work your way in.” The host signals the start of the meal by placing her napkin on her lap. “She then opens with a few words, as simple as ‘bon appétit’ or ‘please enjoy,’” explains Allan. After that, you eat together. With nerves at full peak, you might knock a fork on the floor. “But don’t reach under the table and pick it up,” says Allan. “Ask wait staff for a replacement when they come around.”
How to leave
When it comes time to settle up, the host pays the bill. “You should thank them twice,” says Allan — once when you rise from the table and once again when you part ways outside. If you’re both walking back to the office, hold off on the second thank you until you arrive. And follow up with a handwritten card, not just an email. “It makes a big difference,” says Allan. All in all, it’s a lot to think about. But Pepper says you just need to follow the lead of the host. And, once you’ve done it a few times, it can actually be fun. “It’s almost like a dance.”
This story is from our Fall 2016 issue.
Illustration by Isabel Foo